Allman Brothers Band devotees happily listen to different versions of the same songs over and over, marveling in the majesty of them, as well as in the subtle variations in each performance. Never has a band fused blues, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and for a little while country, like the Brothers did.
The curators of The Allman Brothers Band’s archives have done a wonderful job providing fans with six historical projects since the end of the line arrived in 2014. “Fillmore West ’71” is the first in celebration of the band’s golden jubilee.
Sadly, Gregg Allman and drummer Butch Trucks recently joined guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley in the great hereafter orchestra. Therefore, these recordings of the original incarnation, which ran from just 1969 to ’71, take on a new significance. The Allman Brothers hustled back and forth between the Fillmore auditoriums on each coast, recording their pinnacle “At Fillmore East” album just two months after these shows took place.
So, how does Fillmore West ’71 compare to that classic? At these three dates, presented in their entirety over four CDs, the performances at times seem more relaxed, the nuances sharper. Plus, Tom Dowd’s production of “At Fillmore East” instilled the songs with massive depth. Listen to “Dreams” here, one of Gregg Allman’s emotional best, and a song rarely captured at that time, and be in awe of how these young men — they were all in their 20s — played music so incredibly complex. Their intense rhythmic movements generated the same passion that Gregg Allman did in voice, and Duane Allman sang in a language all his own through his guitar.
When Duane sustains the note that opens Gregg’s “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” it ignites like a spark plug something altogether different, his slide ultimately screaming. Collectively, the band’s pure Southern heat radiates like several dashes of insane hot sauce would taste, all fiery and wet.
Guitarist Dickey Betts, on his own and in glorious harmony with Duane Allman, established his identity with his R&B-meets-jazz instrumental, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The refined touches in that classic are easily discerned and appreciated here.
In T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” bassist Berry Oakley’s supple yet profound thumping, Jaimoe’s jazz percussion intricacies, and Trucks’ power on drums all together provided the ideal guide for Gregg Allman’s bronzed blues crooning. At one point, Duane Allman references Derek and the Dominos’ version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” from the “Layla” album, which he contributed significantly to, three months prior. Diehards will discover where that moment lies and smile wide. This collection is essential for them, and recommended to anyone interested in enjoying an utterly unique approach to the blues.
— Tom Clarke
- The Allman Brothers Band
‘Fillmore West ‘71’
Label: Allman Brothers Band Recording Company